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The Salons of Angers

There’s a change to the usual programme of updates on Winedoctor this week, as last Friday evening I arrived in Angers for the annual Salon des Vins de Loire. There is little if any time to make the usual additions to the site, and so instead I will provide some brief reports on what I have been up to here in the Loire Valley.

Most of the weekend has been taken up with the Renaissance tasting, although there are many other salons; the choice of tastings has snowballed over the past few years and there are now far too many to cover in just two days. Renaissance is the brainchild of Nicolas Joly (pictured below), although Lalou Bize-Leroy has long been associated with the group and she was present at the tasting over the two days (you can imagine the crowds around the Domaine Leroy stand – four deep at the best of times). Renaissance was also, as far as Angers is concerned, the original ‘off’-salon, although La Dive Bouteille was actually established first. The problem with La Dive is that it is held in Château de Brézé, near Saumur, which means it is a pain to get there if you don’t have convenient transport, and a waste of good tasting time even if you do.

Nicolas Joly

In Angers, however, there were this weekend also the Pénitentes tasting (Thierry Puzelat, René Mosse and friends), Les Anonymes (Jean-Christophe Garnier, Jérôme Saurigny and pals), a Demeter tasting and probably others I was unaware of. I say this because, other than the Renaissance event, which was the only tasting I received notification of (by email, from four or five different vignerons), none of these salons seem to have been very well advertised. If you want journalists to come to your salon, it might be an idea to shout about it a bit. With so many to choose from this salon business is getting competitive, and a simple Facebook page or static blog page doesn’t cut it, as how do I know where to look? Maybe salon organisers should build a mailing list, and fire out some invitations? Maybe they should get Charlotte Carsin (of Clos de l’Èlu) on the case; taking down my email address today, she added me to her mailing list to advertise La Paulée de l’Anjou Noir, another relatively new event (in its fourth year I think) planned for later this year. She just increased the likelihood of me attending one-hundred-fold.

Anyway, the weekend has been filled with the likes of Richard Leroy, Domaine de Bellivière, Mark Angeli, Clos de l’Èlu, Philippe Delesvaux, Patrick Baudouin, Philippe Gilbert, Jo Landron, Domaine de l’Ecu, Château de Coulaine, Sébastien David, Coulée de Serrant, Domaine des Huards, Domaine Mélaric and more than a few others. I also popped over to the Bordeaux stands to take a look at Château Falfas, Clos Puy Arnaud and Château Gombaude-Guillot, three domanes worth knowing about. I don’t think I could have done better than that no matter how many other salons I managed to fit in.

As for the Salon proper, this will be a very different proposition this year. A number of big producers, some of whom have been asking for change at the salon for some years, have eventually pulled out. Champalou (Vouvray) pulled out years ago, last year and this year there was no Château de Tracy (Pouilly-Fumé), and this year they will be joined by Henri Bourgeois (Sancerre) and Domaine Huet (Vouvray). The salon is very expensive to participate in, and it isn’t surprising that producers should pull out if they feel they aren’t getting good value for their money. Even the absorption of another ‘off’-salon, La Levée de la Loire, into the Salon proper doesn’t seem to have eased the financial pressure that seems to result from the salon’s gradual contraction. InterLoire and their PR agency Clair de Lune have cut back support for journalists to attend the Salon this year. This rather reminds me of a short story I once read, perhaps by Stephen King (although I could be mistaken) about a surgeon castaway on a desert island who is so hungry he amputates a foot, and then eats it. And then the other foot, and then so on, to the inevitable end. There are some things in life you shouldn’t do, and cutting off vital parts is one of them. There are few enough journalists interested in the Loire Valley as it is, cutting them loose in terms of support seems like a worrying sign of the state of the Salon to me.
There is a lot of salon competition out there now (I spoke to one blogger today who says he comes only for the ‘off’ events, and doesn’t even go to the Salon), and they will be only to happy to take more visitors away from the Salon if they can. All they have to do is get their marketing right.

2014 Winedoctor Disclosures

Here comes my annual statement of support received by me in the work I do running and writing Winedoctor, a little later than planned (I have been rushed off my feet). Having said that, looking back to my 2013 disclosures, I see I published in late January and made the same excuse last year, so perhaps this is now the norm.

During the past twelve months there has been a little social media chatter concerning transparency and disclosure in wine writing, and I half-expected that by the start of 2015 I would not be alone (am I alone in this? – tell me if I have this wrong) in ensuring total transparency with regard to support received. It seems, however, that this is not the case. There was debate and discussion, a moment of flurry on Facebook and Twitter, but ultimately nothing changed – except for a few Klout scores, perhaps. That is a great shame. These days, when I encounter a report from a far-flung wine country such as New Zealand, Argentina, South Africa or even somewhere closer to home (insert wine region of your choice here), and when I read of all the “amazing” (this surely counts as the most cringe-worthy adjective in wine writing, although “mind-blowing” and “awe-inspiring” come close) wines encountered, I feel distinctly uncomfortable. Why are all the wines tasted so superb? After all, I never find this to be the case on my self-funded trips to the Loire Valley or Bordeaux. Who paid for the flights and accommodation on this wine trip of a lifetime? A producer, a generic body, or the writer? The people making the “amazing” wine, perchance? Yes or no, this is valuable information for the reader.

Last year I brought my annual disclosure out onto the blog to ensure it could be read by all, not just subscribers. I read one comment (I don’t recall where) that this was still ‘cheating’ as although accessible the disclosure is divorced from the original article, and this is a far point (although harshly put). So in the past twelve months I have been assiduous in tagging on (where relevant, i.e. where there is something to disclose) a disclosure at the end of every new article published, including a number of Bordeaux profiles, Loire visits, and a couple of my Bordeaux 2013 primeurs reports.

Sorry if the information below is a little dry. For the other writers who have complained about how dull and overly-detailed this annual post is, I look forward to reading your more entertaining versions in the future.

First of all, as is customary, details of support and other benefits received during the course of 2014:

Salon des Vins de Loire: I received much less support during 2014. Through the PR agency Clair de Lune InterLoire paid for only two nights accommodation in Angers during the Salon. During the Salon des Vins de Loire I had dinner at a restaurant courtesy of Charles Sydney, a Loire courtier, and his many dozens of growers. I covered all other costs myself (see below).
Loire hospitality: During my self-funded trip to Vouvray in July I visited Peter Hahn of Clos de la Meslerie during the evening for drinks and hors d’oeuvres, and visited Vincent Carême at a later date for a tasting followed by a barbecue to which we all contributed (I brought the desserts – if you ever find yourself in Vernou-sur-Brenne you have to go to Huvet, the boulanger-pátissier on the main street – they make great desserts, including killer chocolate eclairs). During the same trip I had a picnic in the vineyards with Jo and Wendy Paillé, of Pithon-Paillé. All other expenses I met myself (see below).
Grands Chais de France: I participated in a press trip to Bordeaux to see the work Grands Chais are doing. This included flights, transport, accommodation and two dinners. I have made declarations on all associated profiles (as I have for the Vouvray growers mentioned above).
Bordeaux primeurs: I stayed in Château Preuillac, courtesy of Yvon Mau, during the primeurs week. I accepted three nights uncatered accommodation. Other aspects of the trip and expenses I met myself (see below). I had dinner with Jonathan Maltus of Château Teyssier one evening. I had a quick lunch at Château Pichon-Baron. I have made declarations in my primeurs reports.
Gifts received: A Christmas hamper from Sopexa, sent to all journalists who submitted suggestions for the Cracking Wines from France tasting. Two bottles of wine from Château Brown were also received.
Samples received: Only a small number of wine samples were received, where the wines have been written up this has been declared. Most wines written up on Winedoctor are encountered at open tastings, or purchased.

2014 Winedoctor disclosures

During 2014 the support received by Winedoctor has been reduced again, thanks to my subscribers for facilitating this. As is customary I also document below the expenses I met myself during the course of 2014:

Loire Valley: I covered the costs of travelling to and around Vouvray (pictured above, the Clos du Bourg) and all my accommodation myself. Other than the meals described above I received no support. I stayed in accommodation owned by Peter Hahn next to Le Clos de la Meslerie; I paid full price for this.
Angers, Salon: Most travel expenses for the Salon des Vins de Loire were met by me; this included flights, rail fare in France, three nights accommodation in Angers and subsistence on all nights but one.
Bordeaux, Primeurs: I met most costs myself; this includes transport to airport, flights to Bordeaux, and hire car for eight days. Other than one meal at the home of Jonathan Maltus with another journalist I met all subsistence costs myself. I paid for two nights in a hotel in Libourne and two nights in a hotel in Bordeaux city to complement my three nights in Château Preuillac.
London, RAW and Bordeaux Grand Cru Classé tastings: In 2014 these fairs were on consecutive days. I paid for train fares, one night in hotel, and subsistence.
Three other London tastings: These were one-day affairs, including a Bordeaux Index tasting, the Loire Benchmark tasting and the Real Wine Fair. I paid for my own parking, flights and transfers in each case.

The list of trips is slightly shorter than usual as an illness in late 2014 meant I had to cancel two trips to London tastings and a planned trip to Sancerre. Gutted? Yes!

This concludes my disclosure statement for 2014. During the year ahead I will be focusing on Anjou in the Loire Valley, updating and expanding all my profiles, and getting to grips with some of the less-commonly sighted sweet wine domaines in the Coteaux du Layon, Quarts de Chaume and Bonnezeaux. In Bordeaux I will be mixing it up with some new St Emilion profiles and updates, as well as filling in gaps on the left bank, in St Julien and Pessac-Léognan, and I am looking forward to devoting some time to ‘little’ names in the Haut-Médoc and Médoc appellations, who don’t get the same coverage as the grand cru classé domaines.

Of course, there is also my 2014 Bordeaux primeurs report, a 2014 Loire Valley report, a 2005 Bordeaux retrospective, 2002 revisited in Bordeaux and the Loire Valley with a couple of dozen wines from my cellar. I will also get started on a new appellation-by-appellation guide to the Loire Valley, ensuring complete coverage, from the Fiefs-Vendéens all the way up to the Côte Roannaise. I may (not yet firmed up) be visiting Jerez this year – although not a region I ‘specialise’ in the wines fascinate me and I don’t mind broadening my horizons now and then, as I have done in the past with trips (self-funded) to Madeira and Tuscany. That should keep me busy. Santé!

A New Year Wish

The year 2014 has flown by, especially the last four months, and so here is a moment or two of reflection. Winedoctor has grown nicely, both with regard to Bordeaux and the Loire. My march through Bordeaux, adding new profiles and updating old ones, having done Sauternes (from early 2012 onwards), followed by St Estèphe and Pauillac (during 2013) reached Pomerol in 2014. Back in January I was on Château Le Bon Pasteur (updated January 2nd 2014), and having progressed alphabetically I will finish with Vieux Château Certan in the next few weeks (today’s update, Le Pin, was slightly delayed). Alongside I also added my usual vintage updates, including an especially detailed look at the 2013 vintage, and there are other vintage-based tasting reports coming up. As for the Loire, I published dozens of new and updated profiles, with a leaning towards small, new, young and up-and-coming domaines. I could go back and count all these updates, but I think I would rather go and open something good to drink this New Year’s Eve, so I hope you will forgive me if I don’t.

Without a shadow of a doubt the highlight of 2014 for me was a chance to return to Vouvray, not merely for a fleeting visit but to linger a while, for several weeks in fact. I rented a cottage among the vineyards above Vernou-sur-Brenne, and passed the time visiting domaines in the morning, and chilling out at the poolside (weather permitting) in the afternoon. I popped in on some familiar favourites, as well as calling in on some domaines quite new to me, either young start-ups with only a vintage or maybe two under their belts, or domaines that I simply never got around to visiting before. It was a great trip, as everywhere I went the welcome was warm; I adore wine in all its forms, but nothing serves to heighten the experience like meeting the people behind the wines you drink. In Vouvray’s case they are charming and genuinely warm people, the seniors led by the gentleman ambassador Bernard Fouquet (pictured below), the delightful Catherine and Didier Champalou and the king of Vouvray Philippe Foreau, while new generation leaders are Vincent and Tania Carême, who march with Peter Hahn and a gang of Carême acolytes.

Bernard Fouquet

Of course there were less fun moments during 2014 as well. I enjoyed trips to the Loire in February as well as in July, and I was in Bordeaux in April and in June, but I had to cancel return trips to both regions later in the year due to ill health, a very depressing feature of 2014. This is one reason I will be glad to see the back of 2014. There was also the issue of Domaine Huet in February, when after my criticism of the 2012 vintage Sarah Hwang decided to ban me from tasting the Huet wines, either at the Salon des Vins de Loire or even if visiting the domaine (the 2013s I reported on earlier this year I purchased at the tasting room). This was also the year another wine writer accosted me at the Salon des Vins de Loire and referred to a review I had written as “nasty”. It certainly was an eventful Salon for me this year, one that opened my eyes to how adversely some people react to criticism, even when carefully judged and considered. I stand by every word I have ever written, because nothing on Winedoctor is off-the-cuff, jingoistic or gonzo in style. Nevertheless, here’s hoping for a more peaceful Salon in 2015! Sadly I believe Domaine Huet won’t even be attending, but I hope to be able to taste their wines at some point, sometime, somewhere. I still rate the domaine very highly, and I think their 2013s were some of the best in that very difficult vintage.

And so what of 2015? April will see me come to the end of another year as a subscription site, and subscriptions are already up 9.5% this year, so by the end of the year hopefully this will be more like 15%. I don’t worry about page views, Google rank or Klout scores any more; these are either irrelevant to pay sites, or what I call “vanity” metrics. Winedoctor is generally regarded as a “blog” I think, but I prefer to view it as a continually evolving electronic book or journal (hmmm…, if only I had called it “Wine Journal” before Neal Martin chose that name!), full of information-rich profiles, and what matters to me is whether the quality of this information is worthy of the subscriptions people pay, so that is where I focus my attention. Hopefully, climbing subscription numbers mean I am getting it right, but I am always grateful for feedback in this regard. During 2015 I will be moving on to updating and expanding my coverage of St Emilion, and as this is a huge undertaking I will alternate with some left-bank profiles and updates as well, especially looking at some ‘lesser’ regions such as Moulis, Listrac and the Haut-Médoc. There will be the 2014 primeurs, and a look back to 2005 Bordeaux too. And much more. In the Loire, I aim to add plenty more profiles, a 2014 vintage report, update and add new Anjou profiles, and also start work on a huge Loire guide which will touch on every appellation going, from the Côte Roannaise down to the Fiefs-Vendéens. That should keep me busy through 2015 (and 2016, and 2017…).

Best wishes to all, good health and good drinking in 2015. And thank you for reading.

Checking in on . . . . Cuvee Pif, 2012

Although the writing had been on the wall for a year or two, it was only when I visited Catherine Roussel and Didier Barrouillet of Clos Roche Blanche in October 2013 that I learnt with certainty that they were about to hang up their secateurs for good. They had been down-sizing for some time, a large portion of the vineyard having been handed over to Noëlla Morantin, but it was now official. It was also very hush-hush, as Catherine and Didier carefully looked for interested suitors. At the time there were two interested parties, the identities of whom were confidential.

At the time I imagined maybe one was Noëlla, but it seems I may have been wrong. As it turns out the first is Laurent Saillard, who started working in the vines of both Clos Roche Blanche and Noëlla Morantin several years ago. The second is a name new to me, Julien Pineau, who started out as a geologist but ultimately gravitated to wine, ending up working with Didier at Clos Roche Blanche.

Clos Roche Blanche Cuvée Pif 2012

So 2014 is the last vintage for Clos Roche Blanche. The wines of this domaine are not that easy to locate in the UK, nevertheless I have one or two bottles tucked away, including the 2012 described below. Perhaps I will be able to add a bottle of the 2014, who knows?

The 2012 Clos Roche Blanche Touraine Cuvée Pif (Pif is the name of Didier & Catherine’s dog, as I am sure all CRB fans know, and is a blend of Cabernet Franc and Côt) has a beautiful, vibrant hue, a fine black-crimson colour reminiscent of summer fruit pudding. The nose has some appropriate dark fruit-skin character to it, but there is also a savoury edge, and certainly a little methoxypyrazine greenness at first, veering into a more overt vegetal character with a little air. Ultimately, the aromatics here are heavily laced with the celeriac and celery character of Cabernet Franc in what was obviously a cool and cloudy vintage. The palate shows an elegant, clean, slightly juicy character, carrying flavours matching the aromas on the nose. There is also a nice cool energy to it, with peppery fruit, very light tannins, and bright acidity. To be straight I have mixed feelings about this wine; I like greenness when it comes with otherwise ripe fruit, but here it strays a little too far into the vegetal side for me. All the same, I like the cool, sappy nature of the palate. 14/20 (November 2014)

A Gentle Tour of Vouvray

Take a gentle tour of Vouvray with French rally team Florent Genestet and Romain Vallé, in their Citroen Saxo A6. Florent hails from the Loire Valley but is too preoccupied to provide any commentary, so I have added a few pointers to the sights of interest beneath the video.

Time 0:00: Start just north of Vernou-sur-Brenne (hold cursor over bottom of video screen to see timings).

0:39: Underneath the TGV line (the one that subsequently disappears into a tunnel, the campaign led by the late Gaston Huet having succeeded in prevented it cutting through the vineyards).

1:11: Past the Loge du Foujoin (a beautifully restored cabin where vineyard workers would once take shelter).

1:40: Lots of corn!

2:25: Into the Vallée de Vaugondy – now onto my running route when I am staying in Vouvray (although I’m not quite as fast as this car).

3:33: Now heading up the deuxième côte onto the plateau.

3:51: Over a particular nasty drainage channel – you can see the car bump over it – nearly threw me off my bicycle once.

4:06: Past Le Clos de la Meslerie (behind the big hedge!), Peter Hahn obviously stuck at home for the day here.

5:10: Turn right up the Vallée de Cousse, towards François Pinon. Turning left at 5:22 means we miss François’ house sadly.

5:50: Driving along the deuxième côte here – vines to the left, valley to the right. Thereafter, through mostly arable farmland north of the vineyards.

8:05: Turn right away from Château de Jallanges, one of the more notable châteaux near Vernou-sur-Brenne, and shortly afterwards come to a stop.

Not a bad drive, although anyone with any sense would call in on François and Peter for a tasting. And then buy some wine – it’s surprising how many cases you can fit in a hatchback, even a small one like the Saxo. Maybe next time.

Exploring Sherry #6: Don Nuno

Another exploratory moment in the world of Sherry now, and despite having realised I usually prefer Amontillado to Oloroso, this week it’s another Oloroso, this time from Lustau. Well, I don’t want to limit myself so early in my Sherry journey now, do I?

Lustau Oloroso Don Nuño

The Don Nuno Oloroso comes from the Lustau Solera range, which seems to be pretty much their entry-level. The wines come from Lustau’s own bodega in Jerez de la Frontera. I guess, bearing all this in mind, that I shouldn’t expect it to live up to some of the Almacenista and other wines I have been drinking (ahem! – sorry, tasting) recently. In the glass it has a very rich, golden, red-bronze hue. The nose suggests driftwood, with notes of baked earth and nuances of walnut caramel reflecting the oxidation, with a high-toned edge to it all. It certainly feels concentrated and has impact. The palate is fairly dry, firm and energetic despite the oxidation, spicy and textured too, but with a very robust rather than finessed stance, a somewhat coarse sense of structure, and a long, tangy finish. An attractive wine but overall feeling rather chunky and rustic. 14.5/20 (November 2014)

Critics Need Benchmarks

How do we judge wine?

I recall tasting, twenty-five years (or possibly a few more) ago, a South-Eastern Australian Chardonnay from a famous producer. I forget the bin number, and I forget the vintage, but I can still recall the flavour, the tropical-fruit sunshine, the creamy weight of it. I was just getting into wine, and this one tasted fantastic! I wasn’t scoring wine at the time (or even taking notes), but if I had I would have given it a high score.

Today, I would view the wine very differently. It would seem over-ripe, probably acidified, simple, commercial and ultimately rather dull. You might argue that my palate has changed, but something else has changed too. I have a different context for wine today. I have tasted thousands more wines than I had back then, and I have different expectations, based on personal benchmarks, top wines I have tasted and enjoyed over the years.

Benchmarks are essential for judging wine. Forget the commercial wine highlighted above. Let’s take a pricy South African Chardonnay instead. I taste it and really like it, and want to write it up. Do I score it 92 (I’m pretending I use the 100-point system for the moment)? Or should it be a 95? In view of the fact I really, really like it, should it be a 98? As it’s the best South African Chardonnay I have tasted this year, why not 100? The problem is I don’t have any strong benchmarks, South African or even New World, to place the wine and tasting note against. I decide I’m not going to give it a massive score, as it would probably be too high, and look silly. I’m going to end up being cautious, scoring it in the middle. In doing so perhaps I risk scoring it too low, an equally silly outcome, offensive to those that made the wine.

This is a problem you can see running through some wine magazine articles, when they suddenly venture into previously uncharted territory (like the Loire), and I see too many wines rated too low (interpretation: mustn’t give high scores, this isn’t Bordeaux or Burgundy after all) or some wines rated too high (interpretation: I’ve heard of this domaine, so they must be good – not always the case in the Loire, believe me – or I went on a press trip here so I had better say something nice). And I see it in Bordeaux too, when I see an approachable wine given a high score by writers who haven’t visited the region in years, and haven’t tasted what the region is capable of – Latour, Petrus, Le Pin, L’Église-Clinet, Lafite, Tertre-Roteboeuf, Ausone, Margaux, Haut-Brion, I could go on but you get the idea – for years and years, if at all.

I’m sure others see the same problem, but perhaps related to different regions. But for me, I see it in the Loire and Bordeaux. Critics need benchmarks to be credible. Without these benchmarks, it’s another process of random number generation and eye-rolling.

Sociando-Mallet: Old & New

A chance today to look at two wines from what is undoubtedly one of the leading lights in the Haut-Médoc appellation, Château Sociando-Mallet, an estate which lies on the last gasp of the Médoc’s gravel, north of St Estèphe, just before it finally gives way to the cooler clays of the Médoc.

First up, the 1986, the oldest vintage of Château Sociando-Mallet in my cellar. Despite approaching thirty years of age this wine still has a great colour, a dark, black-tulip hue, with surprisingly little sign of age. The nose is savoury, gravelly, perhaps even lightly smoky, with scents of pure blackcurrant skin, all crunchy and dark. It feels less perfumed and a touch more stony than my last bottle, which was a few years ago now. The palate is savoury, medium-bodied, with a tense structure of dry but largely resolved tannin and firm acidity, with fading rocks-and-stone fruit substance draped over the top. A little twist of coffee here reflects the wine’s evolution, and there are some slightly bitter edges to it. Overall this is cool, reserved, appealing, and would work well with roast beef. I’m not sure this has any more to give though, and in view of those fading aromatics I would drink sooner rather than later. 17/20 (November 2014)

Château Sociando-Mallet

Château Sociando-Mallet has been steered to success by Jean Gautreau, now well into his eighties but still very actively involved. Today, he runs the domaine along with son-in-law Vincent Faure, who once told me he was born at Latour. I’m still not sure it that was bare fact, or a figure of speech reflecting his being ‘born’ into wine. While I ponder that, here’s a more recent vintage from Sociando-Mallet.

Alongside, a much more recent vintage, 2010, and this time the second wine, La Demoiselle de Sociando-Mallet. As with the 1986 this is a wine I have tasted before, although in this case only as a barrel sample, during the primeurs. This is a blend of 50% each Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, partly aged in new oak, but mostly aged in vat to enhance the fruit. It has a dark but much more youthful hue, with a vibrant crimson rim. The nose has some appealing smoke and black-violet floral perfume to it, and it is certainly the fruit that shows above all, albeit in a savoury, blackcurrant-skin, charcoal-rubbed character. A palate quite typical of the 2010 vintage, firm, with a certain structure to it, led by the tannins, good acidity too, but with a gentle blanket of berry fruits laid over the top. An attractive wine, approachable now, but cerebral and savoury rather than plush or easy. Good. 15/20 (November 2014)

I like the wines of Château Sociando-Mallet; they are wines for drinkers, rather than collectors, always dependable, in good and not-so-good vintages, and good value too. I recently tucked some 2009 away in the cellar, and it looks like I should probably lay my hands on some of the 2010 grand vin sometime too.

Disclosure: The 2010 La Demoiselle de Sociando-Mallet was a sample sent on behalf of the château.

The 2014 Winedoctor Bordeaux Tour

It has been a very busy October, and a month I look back on fondly. The highlight of the month was without a doubt my first opportunity to lead a SmoothRed tour to Bordeaux. This was an immensely enjoyable experience for me, and I hope (and feedback seems to suggest my hopes have been realised) that the clients were just as pleased with the experience as I was.

Even though I was already quite familiar with the numerous châteaux we visited, I found something new on every visit. I suspect this is because, in Bordeaux, so many of my visits are quick dashes in to taste, often during the primeurs. I always try to build in a little time so that I can find out what is new, to hear the latest gossip, nevertheless it is still a hurried affair, a twenty-minute chat, and then another frantic drive to the next appointment. This trip was, of course, very different. Most visits lasted an hour or two, and there was plenty of time to walk in the vines, check out the harvest (the 2014 harvest was in full swing during our visit) and to taste some musts straight from the vat (always great fun, and the 2014 Château Haut-Bailly rosé we tasted, just a couple of days into its fermentation, promises to be delicious). Of course, we also tasted (and drank!) some older vintages, often over lunch or dinner.

Château Haut-Bailly

We visited many châteaux during the trip, and the programme took in some very serious Bordeaux names, including Château d’Yquem, Château Haut-Brion and Château Angélus. For me a couple of visits really stand out; the very first visit to Château Canon-la-Gaffelière was memorable, an informative talk in the vines being followed by a four-course lunch with a slew of mature wines, including 2000 Château Canon-la-Gaffelière and 2001 La Mondotte, among others. And our evening at Château Haut-Bailly (pictured above) was also very special, kicking off with a Champagne reception and then we had a three-course dinner accompanied by various vintages of the wine, back to the delectable 2000 Château Haut-Bailly. This was all very different to my usual Bordeaux trip, which usually involves a cheese sandwich for lunch, eaten while driving, in order to maximise tasting time.

Reflecting on the trip, I think it was a great success. The organisation behind it was impeccable, for which SmoothRed must take all the credit. And the roll-call of names we visited (I haven’t even mentioned Château Pichon-Baron, even though that was voted ‘top lunch’ of the trip by the clients, or Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte, or Château Pontet-Canet, all of which put on excellent visits and tastings) was remarkable, as were some of our restaurant visits (Brasserie Bordelaise, La Tupina and others). Roll on the 2015 Winedoctor Bordeaux tour!

Checking in on . . . . another 2002, from Jo Pithon

Pulling some more mature bottles from the cellar in the past month has resulted in me pulling the corks on several Loire Valley wines from the 2002 vintage. Here’s another to add to the list, from Jo Pithon, in the days before he teamed up with stepson Jo Paillé to create Pithon-Paillé, today one of the most exciting domaines in Anjou.

Jo Pithon Anjou Les Bonnes Blanches 2002

I decanted the 2002 Anjou Les Bonnes Blanches from Jo Pithon, thinking it might benefit from some air. The appearance is a fairly deep, yellow-gold hue, I think fairly typical for an Anjou Blanc of this sort of age. The nose is quite enticing, showing the density of apricot and white peach, with a savoury fruit-skin character rather than the simple sweetness of the flesh, and there is a little seam of evolution wrapped around it, comprising notes of blanched almonds, drizzled with a little honey. The palate does not disappoint, with a grippy substance, a polished and full texture, substantial yet very vinous in its texture. This is a wine with no shortage of energy and grip, both of which come out through the middle and dominate the wine right to the finish. This is a delightful wine, firm and full of certain grip and substance. And and yet showing some elegance too. For drinking now I think, although there is no great rush; this will go a few more years yet. 17/20 (October 2014)